‘Guilty as charged’: top UK officer urges police chiefs to admit institutional racism

Met’s Neil Basu says ‘positive discrimination’ should be used to increase minority ethnic representation in ranks

One of Britain’s most senior officers has called on chiefs to admit that institutional racism blights policing, declaring “we are guilty as charged”, and blaming failures on the leadership of law enforcement.

Neil Basu, an assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan police and former head of counter-terrorism, told the Guardian “positive discrimination” should be introduced to boost numbers of minority ethnic officers in the ranks.

The intervention by Basu, the country’s most senior minority ethnic police officer, comes on the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by police in the US. The protests that the killing prompted in the UK led to police chiefs launching a race plan this week, billed as a landmark attempt to reset strained relationships and reverse dwindling confidence.

They admitted shame over continued racial bias, but not to institutional racism – a finding made in 1999 by the Macpherson report into police errors that left the racist killers of Stephen Lawrence free.

In a Guardian article, Basu speaks for a minority of chiefs across England and Wales when he says: “The plan’s achilles heel is the inability to galvanise all chief constables to accept that we remain institutionally racist and to apologise for that and our post-Windrush history.

“If we can’t accept we need to change and say sorry to people we have wronged, how can we expect them to trust us?”

Basu had previously argued in 2019 that policing was not institutionally racist, but changed his mind in the aftermath of the Floyd murder, which prompted discussions in which minority ethnic police staff told their bosses about the discrimination and challenges they faced while in uniform.

Basu said: “We are guilty as charged and the evidence can be found in the voices of our staff and communities of difference, and in the still unexplained and disproportionate data that calls out some of our poor policy and practice.”

He takes his share of the blame, with black confidence in policing below that of white people, and despite repeated claims by police leaders to have reformed in the 23 years since the Macpherson report. Basu writes: “This is an indictment of our senior leadership post-Macpherson report, not the vast majority of our frontline staff, who don’t deserve this stigma created by a minority in their ranks and the failure of their leadership to promote diversity. I am as guilty as any.

“We may be better than we were, but we are complacent. Society has moved faster and further than we have.”

Citing research showing policing will take six decades to have the same proportion of minority ethnic officers in its ranks as in the population, Basu calls for the law to be changed to allow positive discrimination. A form of it was tried as part of wholesale sweeping reforms to policing in Northern Ireland and was seen as helping to reduce Catholic mistrust.

Basu writes: “No one I know with protected characteristics wants positive discrimination – I didn’t 30 years ago – but I am an assistant commissioner now, not a PC struggling to be recognised. It worked in time-limited circumstances in Northern Ireland, and it may be necessary in the rest of the UK.”

Sign up to First Edition, our free daily newsletter – every weekday morning at 7am BST

Basu is reported to have irked the home secretary, Priti Patel, by calling for positive discrimination in a private meeting. It was a longstanding policy of police chiefs and was supported by Bernard Hogan-Howe when he was Met commissioner.

Basu and Hogan-Howe both recently applied to be the director general of the National Crime Agency, seen as the second-biggest job in policing. Basu reached the final two, Hogan-Howe did not. But after an intervention from Downing Street, the process has been scrapped, and it will be restarted in an attempt to help Hogan-Howe get the job.

Confidence in policing among women has dropped after revelations about misogyny and the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer. Basu says the blueprint for solving policing’s race crisis can help bridge gaps with other communities: “The black community is not the only part of society that is losing trust and confidence in us. The actions we take in this plan are transferable.

“We can and must reconnect with the public, as Robert Peel wanted when he first said that the public were the police and the police were the public. In 1829 it was an idea ahead of its time. In 2022 it is an ideal we have yet to realise in full.”


Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
UK police leaders to debate making public admission of institutional racism
Exclusive: high-level talks underway as race adviser promises radical reform and anti-racist policing

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

12, Dec, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
England and Wales police bosses will not admit to institutional racism in their forces
Despite vowing change, plans set to be released by the NPCC will oppose an admission of institutional racism

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

28, Feb, 2022 @4:00 PM

Article image
Lawrence revelations: admit institutional racism, Met chief told
Anti-terror head moved as black police leader says force has not improved since the 1999 Macpherson inquiry

Vikram Dodd and Rob Evans

07, Mar, 2014 @11:04 PM

Article image
Senior Met officer acknowledges racism problem in UK’s largest force
Bas Javid says racism is an issue ‘but what I won’t do is describe all of the organisation as a racist organisation’

Jamie Grierson

15, Feb, 2022 @9:13 AM

Article image
Institutional racism still plagues policing, warns chief constable
Figures show officers fall far short of being representative of communities they serve

Vikram Dodd Crime correspondent

12, Oct, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Manchester police chief rejects claim of institutional racism
Officers are five times more likely to stop and search black people than white, race equality report finds

Helen Pidd North of England editor

27, Jul, 2021 @12:19 PM

Article image
Police chiefs to apologise for ‘racism, discrimination and bias’ in race plan
New 50-page plan will avoid admitting institutional racism which critics say could doom promised reforms

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

20, May, 2022 @6:06 PM

Article image
Senior Met officer defends police who stopped Dawn Butler
Officers ‘could not have known Labour MP was black before they targeted car’

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

12, Aug, 2020 @12:23 PM

Article image
Race failures are damaging the police, says top Met officer
Diversity chief admits black men more likely to receive worse treatment than whites but defends Mark Duggan shooting

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

14, Jun, 2016 @9:59 AM

Article image
Bristol refugee murder review accuses police of institutional racism
Family welcome report, which says council and police wrongly thought of Bijan Ebrahimi as a troublemaker

Steven Morris

18, Dec, 2017 @4:26 PM